Nationally syndicated radio host and consumer expert Clark Howard is known for his practical, no-nonsense advice on how to "save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off."
On his show, Howard answers questions from consumers about getting out of debt, dealing with creditors, planning a budget-friendly vacation and more. He's authored nine books including "Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times" and "Clark's Big Book of Bargains."
His latest book, "Clark Howard's Living Large for the Long Haul: Consumer-Tested Ways to Overhaul Your Finances, Increase Your Savings, and Get Your Life Back on Track," is due out this week and includes 50 profiles of individuals and families that serve as inspiration, or in some cases, cautionary tales.
"I profile a 73-year-old truck driver who's still working because, by his own telling, he made bad decisions in his life, didn't save money and has to work to live," Howard says. "He wanted people to know, 'Don't do what I did. This is what will happen to you. Change it now while you can.'"
As Howard explains, the stories offer ideas and paths to financial success that could help others. U.S. News talked to Howard about monetary strategies that make a lasting impact. His responses have been edited.
How have consumers' money attitudes and behaviors shifted with the recession?
There's a seriousness that wasn't there before. Before 2007, a lot of people thought I was that nice, kooky uncle that they let out of the closet every day for a few hours to talk on the radio, because the way I am about doing things, it just sounds so basic: not spending what you don't have and not borrowing yourself into oblivion. Suddenly it became quite practical, and I think that people have changed attitudes.
I call it the Depression Light Effect. After the Great Depression, there were people who never treated money the same way and never felt secure with what they had. This is nothing as traumatic in these last six years as the Great Depression, but the Great Recession has had effects on people, from very intense to subtle.
Your new book is about making changes for the long haul. Those big changes to the way you spend money can be overwhelming for some people. Where should they start?
Start with something easy. Try to figure out what it is that makes you feel out of control, and you attack those things first. I get a lot of people who call me who are talking about how they have no idea where all their money goes.
To try to get that sense of control, I recommend something low-tech. Take a little spiral notebook that a woman can put in her purse or a man can put in his pocket, and every time you spend any money over the course of either a paycheck cycle or a whole month, write down everything you spend money on. The debit card has become the enemy of the person who doesn't know where their money goes. Without thinking about it, they slide it here, they slide it there, and before you know it, the dollars add up to be meaningful money over the course of a month.
Then there are the people who just flat out have over-committed with the two largest chunks of their lives, houses and cars, and that's when it's more radical surgery. I put cars in the lifestyle category, because if you look at a car just as transportation, we'd all be driving Model T's. But we look at cars as something completely different and don't realize how expensive they are. If you really want to take on big chunks, you look at your automobile first and see what you can do to make that a more affordable part of your life.
What about people who want to make changes in their lives, but they may have spouses or friends who have different ideas. Isn't it hard to be surrounded by people who spend differently than you do?
It's extremely hard – just like a smoker who hangs out with smokers and wants to be a non-smoker. It requires extreme discipline on your part, and I think the way you get that discipline is by goal-setting.